Saturday, October 30, 2010

Glee, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Stereotypes, Transsexuals, Transgender, Radical Feminism. Part 1: Glee

image of the Glee cast with Rocky Horror Picture Show disc insert is from here.
The cast of characters, left to right, back row first, is: Quinn, Terri, Sue, Rachel, Will/Mr. Schuester, Emma, Puck, Curt, Mercedes, and [front row] Arnie and Finn. Missing from this photo--or blocked by the RHPS insert, among others, is Santana and Sam.
Series links:
Part 1: Glee
Part 2: Rocky Horror
Part 3: Transsexuals, Transgender, and Radical Feminism
Part 4: Racist Patriarchy, Post-Modernism, Genderism, and Bigotry
Hi, my name is Julian and I am a Gleek and a Rocky Horror Fan. I only became a Gleek this summer, when the reruns of most of the first season's shows were re-aired, and I've been faithfully watching the second season since it began a few weeks-for-gleeks ago. I became a RHPS fan when I was a newly post-adolescent teenager. I've seen the film with performers in the theatre about a dozen or fifteen times. I've seen the movie without the performers a few times. It's so much more fun with the scenes acted out under the screen as the movie is playing, and audiences singing along and calling out the cleverly placed comebacks to on-screen characters and situations that were never part of conception of the original film. The film did okay when released. But by the end of the 1970s it hit some major cities as a midnight show that was far more than "watching a movie with a friend or two". That's "The Rocky Horror experience". I think I first saw it in 1979. If you've only ever "just" watched the DVD--alone (horrors!), you've NOT had the RHPS experience. And I consider you  to be, in RHPS audience parlance, a "virgin".

Over at AfterElton.com, I've been reading a bit from their discussion of Glee's "Rocky Horror"-themed Halloween episode. There are many issues to discuss, if one is a Gleek (a fan of the show, Glee: get with the program, people--literally!). I'm going to analyse and critique the show quite a bit here, but please know this is what progressives and radicals must do. We want our television and we have to publicly critique it to appear not to "only" enjoy it. For the most part, however, I do "only" enjoy Glee. Some of the show's cast were in the news recently for a GQ "Glee Gone Wild" photo "spread" that I found really over the line in terms of turning people-who-portray-teens into pornography--correction: FEMALE teens into pornography for WHM. See *here* for much, much more.

Here's what I like and don't like about the show: relative to most U.S. television programs on major networks, it is far more socially diverse. There are several people of color (not just one person of color in an otherwise all-white show, like, say, Big Bang Theory and too many other programs to name). That said, too many stereotypes get replicated. The most glaring stereotypes, to me, are The Dramatic Slim White Dramatic Femme Out Gay Boy, The Dramatic Fat Black Femme Supposedly Straight Girl. Amber Riley plays Mercedes Jones. PLEASE: could we have a more stereotypical name? Well, actually we could. Her first name could be Shaniqua. And maybe her last name could be one of those early slaver presidents like Washington or Jefferson. To see pics of the cast-mates, please go here at IMDb. But wait: wouldn't you know it--Amber Riley is the only person whose pic isn't up! Can they really not find an image of her to put in there? Does she really have no publicity shots?

For fewer photos but more background info on the show, please see here at Wikipedia. For information, images, and THE FULL EPISODE of "The Rocky Horror Glee Show" please click a few words back or go here, to the show's official Fox website. (They do have pics of Amber Riley. Hey: there's a name for an African American girl--Amber Riley!!! Wait, that's not stereotypical enough. Never mind.) Oh, and Chris Colfer plays Curt Hummel, with a tries-hard-to-be loving Dad. Their relationship on television is a profoundly new experience. I've never seen a straight father/gay son storyline on television that is remotely honest and moving. This one is VERY both. Wouldn't you know it--Mercedes doesn't seem to have a family. She's dimensional in size, but not in character development. As THE ONE AND ONLY person of size on the program (subliminal message: Black is fat; non-Black is thin), we are at least spared some of the typical anti-fat bigotry and "humor" known to run rampant and naked throughout dominant media. ("The Biggest Loser" has to be among the worst offender of any show I've heard of. I've yet to watch an episode of that program, out of sheer protest.) This isn't helped when thin celebs speak of needing to be thinner, and when heavier celebs speak of needing to be thinner, and also  repeatedly speak out loud about being deeply unhappy as if it's a personal failure rather than a resource-stealing, corporate agribusiness-adoring, fast food-producing First World imperative, to be heavy. No, I'm not naming names.

No butch or non-femme girls--lesbian or straight--are allowed on television EVER. And butch gay boys aren't really either. The boys must be thin, almost without exception. The Fat Gay Boy just doesn't meet with a white het male supremacist audience's approval, including the white gay male portion of that audience. Apparently, we want our gayboys thin or muscular, but never, ever FAT.

So let's get that clear from the start. Butch women are very, very rarely allowed on television, and if a woman appears too butch (or too unfemme--which isn't the same thing, btw) and somehow makes it in front of a camera--Susan Boyle being a classic white example--she will be "made over" ASAP so her eyebrows aren't really her eyebrows any more, so that her hair is "done" into some kind of "hair-do", and so her face has coloring added through products that usually test on non-human animals, such as by applying product ingredients in the eyes of bunny rabbits to see how irritating they are. (The ingredients, not the bunny rabbits.) Coast Sue Sylvester and a more recent addition to the cast might qualify as white butch women only reinforces more stereotypes: that of the "unappealing white non-femme lesbian".

The students of Asian descent--well, at least there's more than one, barely. We have yet to learn any can play violin. One girl can sing; one boy can dance. The most prominent female character is "Tina"--no last name readily known, but if you search for it you find out it is "Cohen-Chang". Well, the Askkenazi Jewish-Chinese name combo is unique--I'll give them that. But the choices of each--the Jewish last name and the Chinese last name are hardly unique.)

Tina is played by actor Jenna Ushkovitz; no program in the U.S. is going to give an East Asian character the last name "Ushkovitz" even if  that is the last name of the girl playing the character. I wonder if because her last name IS Ushkovitz, they stuck the Cohen on to her character's last name. (Some questions in life just aren't all that answerable; it's what keeps life "a mystery".) The "other" student of Eastern Asian descent is presented as a cool dancer, not a singer, in a Glee Club. There's an on-going story line about boys in Glee Club: exactly how ostracised will they be? How "gay" is it to be in a glee club? Answer: VERY. So, with that in mind, I find that ethnically East Asian characters on U.S. television shows fit into one of two categories usually: they are either well-assimilated into dominant white suburban culture, or are well-assimilated into non-dominant African-American (and maybe Latino) urban culture. Generally the girls hang with the lily white wealthy girls, and the boys hang with the not-wealthy Black and Brown boys. This makes each gender "cool".

We have one Latina character among the students and a Latino male character among the school's staff. He's presented VERY one-dimensionally, as sort of the low-class loser (he's the janitor) who aspires to have a "pretty"* white girlfriend or wife, in this case the counselor who is enamoured of the show's white het male hero-with-a-heart-of-gold, Mr. (Will) Schuester (played by Matthew Morrison). (*Note: "pretty" in the U.S. is synonymous with "white".) The more featured character is the counselor. The janitor really only appears in relation to her, for the most part. This can be true of men of color on programs with white women. It is generally not the case with white men on programs with women of any color. The White Het Man is always "center stage", has the most allure, has the most status, and has the largest part. She's Naya Rivera and plays the character Santana Lopez. Not so original with the last name, again. (Jones. Chang. Lopez. Where HAVE I heard these names before??) She's in with the white girls, and appears to be in with one particular white girl in a kind of "bi" way. There are many allusions to their bisexuality (which of course means the show is hinting at "hot lesbian teen girl sex" made for het men). The other bi student is named Brittany and is played by Heather Morris. I don't know which name would be more stereotypical: Brittany or Heather, for this particular character. Brittany is a bit more contemporary, I guess, and allowed her to shine in the episode with Britney Spears, due to them sharing that name--at least phonetically.

Will Schuester, the Great WHM, runs Glee Club (he's the drama teacher). He's fun, cool, hip, down with the kids but not so down as to be inappropriate. And if he crosses some line, he admits it to the students so they can learn from the mild, mild error of his ways. This happens in the Rocky Horror Glee Show episode, when the counselor--who he "wants"--brings to glaring consciousness the fact that he's only putting on the show in order to try and win her back from some new guy who is helping her work through her OCD limitations. She's the school counselor (Emma Pillsbury, played by Jayma Mays), so she's got to have "issues" and in her case she might just as well be the librarian: she's painted for us as prudish while perhaps secretly naughty. Don't the straight white guys love that little madonna/whore not-so-complex stereotype! It's so pro-rape and pro-pornography narrative (same thing).

Will has a wife, Terri Schuester, played by Jessalyn Gilsig, who is yet another stereotype: the over-privileged white het woman who apparently lacks intelligence, who is very femme'd up, and who has way too much time on her hands. She concocts this silly idea of feigning pregnancy while secretly planning to adopt a white straight pregnant girl's baby. The girl is Quinn Fabray (played by Dianna Argon) and, along with Brittany and Santana, comprise the three Cheerios--the high schools cheerleaders who got into Glee Club to spy on them for Sue Sylvester (coach of the Cheerios, played by Emmy winning Jane Lynch, who is an out lesbian in real life and apparently doesn't play one on tv, although the woman sports coach is notoriously known for being the lesbian stereotype; this butch-and-possibly-lesbian stereotype is played up in a minor role by the woman coach of the boys' football team). Sue is perpetually up to no good. Subtle subliminal message: woman who oversees girls is evil. Het man who oversees boys and girls is good--practically holy. Quinn's character is both stereotype and non-stereotype. I suppose this could be said about most of the characters, who, if you watch the show regularly enough, do sort of just become "who they are" in the show, which is to say, in the viewer's life. Quinn breaks the stereotype of the very white, thin, heterosexual female who is "pretty" (white, thin, heterosexual, and female), by being smart. Yes, folks, she's intelligent, and is probably--along with Artie, portrayed as one of the smartest students on the show. Although Santana, too, is very smart, and Mercedes has brains too, so never mind. Curiously, all the boys who aren't disabled and aren't gay are not so bright in the "intellect" department.

There was, for a time, some other character, a horrid stereotype of a white gay adult man who apparently WAS a child molester in the show's sub-sub-plot. He was very creepy in some virulently anti-gay ways, and was made that way by the show's writers.) Even Sue, lately, has become part of Glee Club, which kind of means they're phasing out a Cheerios storyline, which is fine with me as girls in cheer leading outfits is one pornographic stereotype prime time can really do without. I mean seeing high school girls' underpants: does it get any more pornographically (and simultaneously) misopedic and misogynistic? Grown het men are all about this imagery and if a girl can be an athlete too, that works as well, as long as she's in a skirt, and is white, and is thin, and is heterosexual, and is femme. Say, like, Anna Kournikova. If white het men weren't allowed the occasional peek up the skirt of high school girls' attire, you get the sense they might die of withdrawal.

I mention this obsession of het men because gay men are not allowed this obsession to be broadcast without the gay men being seen as perverted, child molesting homosexuals. Why aren't all the het men who jerk off to images of Anna Kournikova stigmatised as perverted, child molestiing, heterosexuals? Oh, yes, because (non-poor able-bodied) WHM can't have a stigma attached to them: they are the teflon-coated socio-political demographic, after all.

Which brings us to Artie Abrams, played by Kevin McHale. Kevin McHale, in case you don't notice, is a decidedly white Irish name. It could also be an African American name, due to the convergence of Irish-English names replacing the original names of enslaved Africans, who freed themselves, lived through Jim Crow, and began to assimilate into dominant white society, in part because of having Irish-English names that could be on resumes and not be tossed out by white employers. Artie Abrams is a bit more white-Jewish sounding. And so, he's nerdy. VERY nerdy-looking. And what goes well with nerdy, meaning unsexy? Being in a wheelchair! He's THE disabled student, because "disability" on television usually only means things like "can't walk". Not "major post-traumatic stress due to daddy fucking you from age two to twelve, or five to fifteen. We don't get THAT disability on television. Only the "can't walk" variety. The show has also had a deaf student plot-line, but it's been awfully stereotypical and kind of cruel. Other blogs have done a good job of articulating what's fucked up about how Artie's disability is handled in the show's storylines. For a very succinct analysis, there's this, from geekfeminism.org. (I'm clearly not geeky enough, as I had no idea what "RPG" meant. In case there are other not-so-geeky people out there, it stands for role-playing [online] game.)
I’ve touched on RPG characters with disabilities being played by TAB-people above, so I’ll just make a general comment. The lack of characters with diabilities in role playing game isn’t unique to RPGs. It’s the systematic problem that exists in all media, which is kyriarchal in nature. You don’t see people with disabilities often in television, books, film, theatre and even then when they do exist they’re often caricatures, comedic relief, or done really badly. I remember reading the frustration of a lot of wheel chair users at Glee because people would just push Artie’s wheelchair around. When I heard that, having spent time around people who use wheelchairs, my jaw dropped because that was at best horribly rude. However, that’s how the Kyriarchy thinks, always from their perspective and so they don’t see a problem with any representation that fits within their world view.
Who have I left out?

Two Jews and two white het guys who are, in the show, three not four characters. The first Jew is one of the STARS of the show, adores Barbra Streisand as a singer/idol, and is named Rachel Berry played by Lea Michele. She has commented, in real life, that she's one of the few girls in her high school who didn't get a nose job. One wonders if she would have been cast in this role, playing a Jew, if she had. Jennifer Grey and so many other Hollywood female actors have had nose jobs to Aryan-ise their shnozzes. Jennifer now regrets it. (To me, she was SO much more attractive before she got the generic Christian-white-euro girl nose. But the pressure to be whiter and more appealing to the WHM gentile masses is ubiquitous, and you'll make less money if you look too "ethnic", so there you have it. She, and lots of other Jewish and non-Jewish female actors have gotten a nose job for their careers.) Rachel Berry is a stereotype: class-privileged, snobby, stuck up, self-absorbed, selfish, and seemingly obsessed with her career (fame along with money acquisition), not things like "compassion for humanity". She's also relatively pale, although not nearly as pale as the non-Jewish white girl characters.

The other Jewish character is a darker-skinned male. His name is Puck (no last name, and one presumes this was not his birth name). He's played by Mark Salling. He's on the football team along with Finn, who I'll get to in a moment. I'd say Puck appears to be Sephardic, not Ashkenazi. In the show he's anti-nerd and part-time bully. He's the guy on the show who is both very "hot" and very "cool". He's got a slow-growing "mohawk" haircut, which, by appropriating Indigenous North American stereotypes, makes him all the more cool. Appropriation of invaded, colonised, and/or destroyed nations' cultural terms is usually 'cool' in white television shows. Or at least totally acceptable. Consider professional allegedly het male team sports (Indians, Braves, Redskins, etc.) and U.S.-made automobiles (such as the Jeep Cherokee and the Pontiac) and famous U.S. states and cities (Seattle, Chicago, Missouri, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Minnesota, Alabama, Alaska, and let's not forget "Indiana"). Puck fucks around and it's well known and there's no stigma attached to him for doing it, as there would be if he were any other gender or sexual orientation. Everyone else is called "a slut" for having lots and lots and lots of casual sex with multiple partners. But not white het men. Go figure.

Puck's football and on-again/off-again homosocial buddy is Finn Hudson (played by Cory Monteith), who is probably THE main character among the students, along with Rachel. The show always features a duet with the two of them singing. (She's the better singer, by far. He's okay. Now, in RHPS audience parlance, this is where you're supposed to shout, along with the character Dr. Frankenfurter: "OKAY!?!?! I didn't make him for YOU!)

In the movie, the character Frankenfurter is referring to is "Rocky"--the creation. On Glee, "Rocky"--in this one episode, is played by the character Sam Evans, who is new to the show, coming in during season two. He's played by Chord Overstreet--a more white/goy-boy name there's perhaps never been. I do wonder if it is his birth name.) He's the new "hottie" guy who both Curt and at least one het female character has a crush on. Curt confirms a suspicion, in a very subtle glance "down" as Sam is showering, that his head of bleached-blond hair is "not natural".

In the RHPS, Rocky is introduced in the last part of the song, "Sweet Transvestite". Dr. Frankenfurter is speaking/singing to the two main characters, Brad and Janet, whose car breaks down outside in the rain, near a castle occupied by some very strange and possibly "Transylvanian" souls:

So why don't you stay for the night? Or maybe a bite? [Get it?]
I could show you my favourite obsession [movie audience yell out "SEX"].
I've been making a man [audience: "Not him"] with blond hair and a tan
And he's good for relieving my [audience yells out: "SEXUAL"] tension

Here's a video clip of that song, in which Dr. Frankenfurter makes his simultaneously dramatic and campy entrance from the elevator:

And with that, we'll end part one. Stay tuned for Part 2: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I see you shiver with antici......[movie audience yells out "SAY IT!!!!"] ...pation. If you're at all confused, please find a way to somehow see the mid-1970s cult classic, preferably in a movie theatre at midnight on Halloween, so you'll be more "in the know" for Part 2 of this ARP blog series. And, well, just because it's a whole lot of fun.

2 comments:

Owl Eyes said...

Fantastic post! You nailed so many issues with race, in particular as well as the non-butchness in television. I was thinking about lesbian representation in media, and i couldn't think of any lesbian appearing on television without being put there in some heterosexual male fantasy. It is quite pathetic. It is ridiculous how media portrays anyone who isn't normal or underweight as "ugly" and want to change them any way they can. I thought this was a fantastic post, i shall share it on my facebook!!

Julian Real said...

Thanks so much, Owl Eyes! And thanks for linking it to Facebook!

Cheers.